Reece Prescod turned up overweight to the British Olympic trials
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Reece Prescod knows he has left it too late for these Olympics. The chances of arguably the most naturally-gifted male sprinter Britain has ever produced winning a 100 metres medal here in Tokyo are slim to none.
He has not put the work in. He has eaten too much junk food. He has spent too much time playing video games.
But he knows it. And it is from such admirably frank admissions that hope springs Prescod, 25, will one day fulfil his immense talent and perhaps even conquer the world. There is too much ability there to waste.
It was in 2017 that Prescod seemingly burst from nowhere to win the British title and become the home nation’s only sprinter to make the World Championship final in London.
Within the sport he was being spoken about in the kind of reverential manner usually reserved for the big names hailing from the other side of the Atlantic – a British sprinter who could prove a genuine threat to the Americans and Jamaicans.
Whisper it, but there was – and still is – something Usain Bolt-like about him. The imposing height and absurdly-long levers, the relatively weak start out of the blocks and the frankly obscene ability to leave opponents in their wake once belatedly up to full cruising speed.
In 2018, he ran his personal best 9.94 seconds and won European silver. In 2019, he clocked 9.97sec in his very first race of the year. His career trajectory was only going in one direction. And then it wasn’t.
In peak condition, Reece Prescod (centre) is a genuine threat to the Americans and Jamaicans
First, he injured his hamstring, ruling him out of the rest of 2019. Next, he moved to Florida to train under one of the world’s most renowned sprint coaches, only to bail just a few months in, pack his bags and return home. Then, last month, he turned up overweight to the British Olympic trials and got “absolutely battered” in the final.
Humiliatingly, he could manage only 10.33sec and finished fifth. It was the final straw. Things had to change.
“You see these boys and [normally] I could give them a couple of steps and I would be ahead,” he says. “When I was at the trials, it was set, go: ‘You are next to me. You are still next to me. Oh, you are still here’.
“That was an eye-opener. In the final I got absolutely whooshed, absolutely battered. It was humbling.”
It did not take long to identify the problem.
“I was well overweight,” he admits. “I don’t know if it was American food or if I love Deliveroo too much. But I was 87kg. My race weight is normally 79/80kg.
“I don’t know if I spent too much time in the gym just smashing my upper body too much and eating a bit too much food. Just happy food, happy weight. But I gained a bit of welly.”
Then, simultaneously prompting disbelieving laughter and distressed grimaces at a talent going to waste, he delivers the astonishing detail of the lifestyle he had been leading.
“I can do meal prep but when Deliveroo gets in my hand…” he begins. “You’ve got Joe & The Juice in the morning and Pret [a Manger].
“Then you come back for lunchtime and there’s Nando’s, there’s Gourmet Burger Kitchen.
“Daryll [Neita, fellow Team GB sprinter] is one of my close friends and her family have an amazing Caribbean restaurant, so I could just do that.
“Then I jump on Call of Duty with the boys. We have a little snack break, and instead of having a fruit salad, I might order from Cake and Custard Factory.
“Before you know it it’s a jam tart, a pink icing cake with some custard. Then I’ve ordered two and an Appletiser, and then I go to bed. You’ve done that for a week and it just ends up going on.”
Food was not the only problem. Gaming had started taking over his life.
“It was a serious commitment,” he says. “I was a serious gamer. I was a serious soldier.
“I was jumping on eight-hour shifts a day at least. Now I jump on one or two games with the boys maximum.
“It was very much like I’d go to training, go home: ‘Lads, what time are you on? 2pm? Okay’.
“I’d play 2pm to 8pm. Then food. Then more. You just keep playing and playing. I’ve got a very addictive personality so once I get into something, I get into it fully.”
The move to America to train alongside world 110m hurdles champion Grant Holloway and under coach Mike Holloway was supposed to propel him to the next level but it did not prove a fruitful combination.
He points to a number of reasons: the high training intensity, the lack of medical provision, the absence of a support system. Largely, he missed his family and friends. “I’m a bit of a London boy so I just enjoy being back home,” he admits.
Even now, the future remains uncertain. His current coach is temporary and he has no set training base. That he was awarded a Team GB spot after his poor outing at the Olympic trials was testament to the immense regard he is held in and he has already shown just how quickly he can improve by running 10.13sec in his final outing before flying to Japan.
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He has marked these Tokyo Games as “an opportunity to put myself back up there”. Linford Christie’s 9.87sec British record remains a firm and immensely achievable target in the future if he knuckles down and works.
“Give me a year or so and I’ll be back to where I need to be, running sub-10 consistently and challenging for medals,” he says.
“In terms of living like a boy, I feel I have done everything. Done my fun year. Gone here, gone there. Been one of the lads. I’ve done it all.
“Now the only thing I really want to do is get better at athletics. I’ve got no excuse. I need to knuckle down.
“We all know you have got to get rid of the cake and custard, and just bring it home.”